Last updated on February 21st, 2023 at 11:12 am
Are your bicep curls not progressing?
It has to be one of the most frustrating aspects of training.
You seem to be moving forward nicely on just about every other lift.
However, when it comes to bicep curls you appear to have been stuck on the same weight for what seems like months now.
Allow me to explain what’s going on here and what you can do about it.
The most common reason that your bicep curls aren’t progressing is because they’re being performed at the end of a pull or back-based workout. Basically, the biceps will have been worked extremely hard already so will be fairly fatigued by the time you get to bicep curls. If you perform bicep specialization workouts you will soon see progress in curls. You should also use a wide variety of curl exercises to hit the biceps from various angles and work on increasing reps before weight.
Table of Contents
When Are You Performing Bicep Curls?
I would say that the number one reason that you probably aren’t making any progress with bicep curls is due to when you’re performing them.
By-and-large, the vast majority of gym goers will either have pull-specific day, or a back day, when they perform bicep curls towards the end of their workout.
Even if you perform the “bro-split” where you have one specific day dedicated to biceps and triceps, the day you train arms can still have an impact.
Pretty much all pull-based exercises will work the biceps to some extent.
So, let’s say your pull day consists of pull ups, deadlifts, bent-over rows, and machine rows.
At the end of your workout you then perform hammer curls and bicep curls.
In effect, your biceps will already be fairly fatigued before you’ve even got to your bicep-specific exercises.
Additionally, your bicep training is kinda thrown in at the end, almost as an afterthought.
I can guarantee that you aren’t putting as much effort into your bicep work as you were with your pull ups, deadlifts, and rows.
Basically, you’re pretty fried by the time it gets to your biceps.
I will also say that if you’re using the bro-split you should probably do arms the day after legs.
Having a specific back day will once again fatigue your biceps, so you’d be better off having at least a day’s rest before hitting your bis.
So, the ideal bro-split will typically be chest, back, shoulders, legs, arms, and in that order.
This way you’re not excessively impacting your workouts by using the same group of muscles two days in a row.
Focus More on Biceps if That’s Your Goal
Realistically, if you want to focus more on your arms, especially your biceps, then you’d be better off with some bicep specialization training.
If you think about it, you wouldn’t perform bicep curls at the beginning of a pull day because this will have negative connotations for the bigger lifts.
You know for a fact that you won’t be performing as many pull ups and rows if you’ve hit biceps first.
So, initially work out what’s more important to you and then train accordingly.
Progression – It’s All Relative
Sometimes there’s a tendency to overly worry about not progressing with bicep curls.
There’s a few things to consider here.
Firstly, let’s say that you’re currently performing 10 reps of bicep curls with 45lbs dumbbells.
So, after hitting 10 reps for a couple of consecutive workouts it’s time for you to up the weight.
However, the next set of dumbbells available are 50lbs.
No problem, you think.
You set about bicep curling the 50lbs dumbbells and find that you’re really struggling by the 5th rep.
That’s it, you haven’t got a 6th rep in you.
So, you call it a day.
The automatic thinking of most people here is that I’m not doing enough volume.
Therefore, it may be better to drop back down to 45lbs again until you’ve totally nailed it and are ready for progression.
Or then again, you could just struggle on with the 50lbs dumbbells.
Now, the way I look at it is that going from 45s to 50s is actually an 11% increase.
There is not a single other exercise that you’ll typically perform where you will progress with an 11% increase in weight.
If your bench press is 225lbs for 10 reps, you are not going to expect to lift 250lbs for 10 reps the following week.
No, even with the big compound exercises we still only progress at around 5 pounds at a time.
So, you can’t expect to be making the same progression in weight when training an isolation exercise for a much smaller muscle, i.e. the biceps.
There are actually better ways to progress with bicep curls, and I’ll get to those in a moment.
Are Your Pulling Exercises Progressing?
Something else to consider is whether your other pulling exercises, especially the compound lifts, are progressing.
If you find that you’re able to add more weight consistently to your rows, weighted pull ups and chin ups, then don’t overly worry about a lack of curl progression.
We know that these exercises, especially chin ups, work the biceps pretty hard anyway.
So, your biceps will definitely be getting stronger.
Simply because you can’t see any progression for just one exercise doesn’t mean that all is lost.
Once again, keep in mind how much of a percentage you’d need to increase weight by in an exercise like dumbbell bicep curls.
Plus, if you’re progressing in weight with your pulling and other exercises, you’re definitely doing something right.
So, don’t sweat it.
Use Bicep Curl Exercise Variations
Over the years I’ve come to the conclusion that not all of us are meant to be doing the exact same exercises.
Our bodies are all different, so they typically react differently to the same exercises.
A prime example of this is that not everyone is constructed to perform the barbell back squat.
A difference in torso or limb length can make this exercise extremely simple or extremely difficult for two different people.
The same can be said for bicep curls.
Okay, if you want to grow your biceps then you’ll generally automatically turn to barbell or dumbbell bicep curls.
And when you find that you’re not progressing with these two exercises life becomes extremely frustrating.
However, they’re not the only curl variations available to you.
Plus, they’re definitely not the only bicep exercise you can do to grow a set of awesome-looking guns.
For me, I rarely perform standard curls nowadays.
They simply don’t do it for me.
More often than not I tend to feel these two types of curls in my forearms, and I feel very little bicep stimulation.
I much prefer seated incline bicep curls, concentration curls, preacher curls, and a wide variety of cable-machine bicep curls.
Plus, I don’t know where I’d be without my much loved hammer curls.
Use Rep Progression Before Weight Progression
Something else to consider is to progress through reps before adding weight.
I would even take this rep progression quite far before adding any further weight.
So, let’s look at our 45lb dumbbells once again and see how we can do this.
You basically add one rep to each set for each subsequent training session (or whenever you feel ready).
- 4 sets of 8 reps @ 45lbs
- 4 sets of 9 reps @ 45lbs
- 4 sets of 10 reps @ 45lbs
- 4 sets of 11 reps @ 45lbs
- 4 sets of 12 reps @ 45lbs
- 4 sets of 13 reps @ 45lbs
- 4 sets of 14 reps @ 45lbs
- 4 sets of 15 reps @ 45lbs
- 4 sets of 8 reps @ 50lbs
And continue in the same way.
Now, I realise most people would probably stop at 12 reps and then look to add weight.
However, you will still be building muscle and strength at 13,14, and 15 reps.
So, when you look to progress to 50lbs you will literally be doing only half the reps of your previous training session.
And this will make the progression feel a lot easier.
Key Learning Points
- Muscle fatigue will halt any progress with bicep curls.
- Muscle fatigue can occur from training your biceps too often. Furthermore, if you’re training your biceps at the end of “pull day” or “back day”, the biceps will already have been worked very hard.
- Focus on other bicep curl variations, which can help stimulate new muscle growth and strength.
- Progression doesn’t always mean adding weight to your lifts, performing more reps is also a form of progression.
Hi, I’m Partha, owner and founder of My Bodyweight Exercises. I am a Level 3 Personal Trainer and Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist through the Register of Exercise Professionals, United Kingdom. I have been a regular gym-goer since 2000 and coaching clients since 2012. My aim is to help you achieve your body composition goals.